US 20070011995 A1
The packaging machine includes: a plurality of lane guides, the plurality of lane guides being spaced apart to form a plurality of lanes; a moveable conveyor belt having a first end and second end, the first end located beneath one of the plurality of lanes, the movable conveyor belt delivers the product to each of the plurality of lanes; a support device located at the plurality of lanes; and a shifting assembly attached to the plurality of lane guides. The method for packaging a case with a product includes: conveying a first plurality of the product to a first lane; supporting the first plurality of the product within the first lane; conveying a second plurality of the product to a second lane; shifting the first lane and the second lane in a first direction; and dropping the first plurality of the products into the case.
1. A packaging machine for packaging products, the packaging machine comprising:
a grid section; and
means for feeding the products to said grid section without having line pressure between the products.
2. A packaging machine for packaging a product, the packaging machine comprising:
an infeed section, said infeed section includes a conveyor belt having a first end and a second end;
a grid section located adjacent to said infeed section, said grid section includes:
a plurality of lane guides, said plurality of lane guides being spaced apart to form a plurality of lanes, said plurality of lanes includes an appropriate number of lanes to fill a case and a spare lane;
a support device located at said plurality of lanes;
a shifting assembly attached to said plurality of lane guides;
a sensor mounted adjacent to said plurality of lanes; and
a controller in electronic communication with said shifting assembly and said conveyor belt,
wherein said first end of said conveyor belt extends beneath one of said plurality of lanes, said first end of said conveyor belt moves to each said plurality of lanes, said conveyor belt delivers the product to each of said plurality of lanes.
3. The packaging machine of
4. The packaging machine of
5. The packaging machine of
6. The packaging machine of
7. The packaging machine of
8. A method for packaging a case with products, the method comprising feeding the products to a grid section without having line pressure between the products.
The present application is a divisional application of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/095,427 which is a divisional application of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/005,457, filed Nov. 2, 2001, which claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/245,889 filed Nov. 3, 2000, which is incorporated in its entirety herein by reference.
Automated packaging devices are often used in high volume production facilities to prepare products for sale and shipment. One common automated packing device is a packaging machine, which divides up the product and drops it into a box or case. The packaging machine typically consist of five sections; a product infeed section, a case feed section, a lift table section, a grid table section and an operator interface section.
The product infeed section of the packaging machine includes a conveyor belt that transfers the product from an up stream process such as filling or labeling, in a serial fashion. The conveyor belt urges the product into grid lanes that align the product into a plurality of rows. Distribution of the product between the grid lanes is accomplished using the force of the conveyor belt and the force created between the individual product items to distribute the product between fixed, stainless steel lane guides. As the product passes between the lane guides, it rests on support strips positioned below the product. At the end of each grid lane is a separation bar, which stops the first product to enter the grid lane. The product is monitored using electronic sensors as it is fed into a grid lane. When the grid lane is filled with the desired amount of product, a brake is applied to stop the serial flow of product in the conveyor belt and, thereby, prevent further product from entering the lane guides.
While the infeed section fills the grid with product, the case feed section delivers empty boxes or cases onto the lift table via a conveyor. The lift table section lifts the cases to a point beneath the grid lanes and waits for product to enter the case before descending. The lift table section is equipped with an air or oil lift table that prompts the up and down motion of the table. As the grid area is filled with product the lift table rises. Once the product is placed in the case, the lift table lowers. The case feed section then discharges the filled case, and an empty case enters the lift table. The operation will then repeat, depending on the number of products in the infeed section.
The grid section is responsible for releasing the product into the empty cases on the lift table. The grid section accomplishes the release of the product using two primary components: the support strip on which the product rests as it enters the grid area, and a grid basket, which guides the product into the case. Once the grid lanes are filled with product, the support strips are shifted to the side allowing the product to fall through the grid basket into the case or box. The support strips are then returned to their original position and the link brake is released allowing subsequent product to be moved from the product infeed into the grid.
An operator interface section controls the system and allows the operator to manage the operation of the machine. Typically, the interface is mounted on a swing boom that enables the operator to control the machine from either side to facilitate viewing of the process. This interface consists of a series of pushbuttons, which enable the operator to start, stop, or alter the performance of the machine, and locate/correct any fault conditions.
As discussed above, the line brake is applied to the infeed conveyor to prevent over filling of the lanes. The application of the brake causes the upstream product to compress together. This compression of the product is known as “line pressure”. Also, as discussed above, the product infeed section divides the product into grid lanes using the force of the conveyor belt and the force created between individual product items. As the product is forced into the grid lanes, the first product to enter the grid lane is forced against the separation bar, and the subsequent products are forced against the first product and against each other. This pressure between the products in the grid lane is known as “wind up”. Despite that line pressure and wind-up cause problems in the packaging operation, they are often used to help move the product in to the grid lanes. Therefore, there is a delicate balance that must be achieved to use line pressure and wind-up without causing problems in the process.
Line pressure results in two main problems in the packaging operation. The first depends on the product being packaged. If the product is made of a glass or plastic oval shape base that has a thinner wall towards the front and back of the base and a thicker wall in the center of the base, excess line pressure may cause the product to break or deform causing delays in the operation as the damaged product is removed and the line is cleared. The second problem occurs with products having irregularly shaped containers (i.e. containers not shaped as a cylinder or parallel-piped). Because the containers are irregularly shaped, contact of containers against each other may cause tipping of adjacent containers resulting in interlocking, tipping, or mispackaging of the product, which again causes delays. To overcome the problems associated with packaging irregularly shaped products, prior art devices used additional devices such as an inflatable membrane to hold the product and prevent it from tipping.
Wind-up tends to cause problems in the packaging lanes. Most cases have product dividers or partitions that protect the product during shipment. Since the product within the lane is in a wound-up state, a gap must be created between the products before they pass into the case. Prior art packaging machines used a separation bar located on the end of the lane to release the wind-up. Once the lane is filled, the separation bar moves away from the row of product, releasing the wind-up. Unfortunately, this technique does not always work well with irregularly shaped products since the wind-up may cause the products to interlock or tip within the grid lanes.
Accordingly, it is considered to be advantageous to have a packaging machine with an infeed section that is able to deliver product into the grid lanes without the problems associated with line pressure or wind-up. It is also advantageous to have a packaging machine capable of continuously filling grid lanes without the use of a line brake. It is also considered advantageous to have a packaging machine capable of continuously filling grid lanes where the products are packaged on a first-in, first-out basis. It is also considered advantageous to provide a packaging machine capable of continuously packaging cases containing variety packs.
These and other drawbacks or deficiencies are overcome by an apparatus and a method for packaging a case with products. The packaging machine includes: a plurality of lane guides, the plurality of lane guides being spaced apart to form a plurality of lanes; a moveable conveyor belt having a first end and second end, the first end located beneath one of the plurality of lanes, the movable conveyor belt delivers the product to each of the plurality of lanes; a support device located at the plurality of lanes; and a shifting assembly attached to the plurality of lane guides. The method for packaging a case with a product includes: conveying a first plurality of the product to a first lane; supporting the first plurality of the product within the first lane; conveying a second plurality of the product to a second lane; shifting the first lane and the second lane in a first direction; and dropping the first plurality of the products into the case.
These and other features, aspects, and advantages of the present invention will become better understood with reference to the following description, claims and accompanying drawings in which:
A product must go through a number of steps to transform the raw material into a useful product. These steps can be numerous, including the mixing and processing of the raw material to create the base product, filling containers with the base product and labeling the container to create the final product. Usually one of the last steps before shipment to a customer is the packaging of the final product (hereafter referred to as the product) into conveniently sized case or box that will hold and protect the product during shipment. In high volume facilities, the process of filling cases with product is usually automated to reduce manufacturing cost.
The product infeed section 22 is best seen in
The second conveyor 56 extends from the first conveyor 50 to an end section 58 of the second conveyor 56, which is located at the grid section 26. The end section 58 is coupled to a gear assembly 60, which is driven by a motor 62. The motor 62 may be a servo motor, a start/stop electric motor, or even air cylinders. The second conveyor 56 has a pair of pivots 70 and 72, which allow the end section 58 to move laterally along gear assembly 60 while still remaining parallel to a plurality of grid lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88. An additional motor (not shown), which may be a servo motor, a start/stop electric motor, or even air cylinders, drives a belt 90 of the second conveyor 56. The motor 62 and the additional motor (not shown) may be coupled to their respective assemblies by clutches (not shown), which allow the operator to disconnect the motors in the event of a jam or dislodged product. In addition, the motor 62 and the additional motor (not shown) may be in electronic communication with the controller 39 (see
The second conveyor 56 has a pair of sensors 92 and 94, which are mounted to the gear assembly 60. The sensor 92 is used to count the number of products entering the grid lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88. This allows the packaging machine 20 to determine when a grid lane is filled with product. The sensor 94 may be used as a back up for the sensor 92.
The grid section 26 includes the grid lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88, which are formed between a plurality of parallel, spaced apart plates (lane guides) 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, and 112. Second conveyor 56 is positioned so that the end section 58 extends under and to an end 114 of the grid lane 80. A series of support devices, which are illustrated as stationary support strips 120, 122, 124, 126, and 128, are positioned under and parallel to the grid lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88 and the second conveyor 56. Located adjacent to and at the end of each grid lane 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88 is a shock absorbing device 130 (shown on
Each of the lane guides 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, and 112 that make up the grid lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88 are mounted to a gear assembly 132. The gear assembly 132 is driven by a motor 134, which may be a servo motor, a start/stop electric motor, or even air cylinders. The motor 134 is mounted to a packaging machine frame 136. As will be described in more detail herein, the motor 134 drives the gear assembly 132 which moves the lane guides 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, and 112 in a direction perpendicular to the support strips 120, 122, 124, 126, and 128 as indicated by an arrow 138. The motor 134 may be in electronic communication with the controller 39 (see
In the exemplary embodiment, the lane guides 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, and 112 and support strips 120, 122, 124, 126, and 128 are laterally adjustable. This allows the packaging machine 20 to be reconfigured for different products by adjusting the lateral distance between adjacent lane guides. Alternatively, to simplify the assembly, nonadjustable lane guides 120, 122, 124, 126, and 128 may be removably mounted to the gear assembly 132. In this alternate embodiment, different sets of lane guides would be utilized for different sized products.
In an alternate embodiment, shown in
Another alternate embodiment of the spacing mechanism is shown in
An alternate embodiment of the support devices of the grid section 26 is illustrated in
In an alternate embodiment, bladder pairs 160 and 162 eliminate the need for the support strips 120, 122, 124, 126, and 128 and for the shock absorbing device 130, both illustrated in
Each bladder pair 160 and 162 is associated with a particular grid lane 84 and 86 respectively. Grid lane 84, which includes lane guides 106 and 108, is illustrated with bladder pair 160. One of each bladder pair 160 is attached to lane guide 106 and 108. Grid lane 86, which includes lane guides 108 and 110, is illustrated with bladder pair 162. One of each bladder pair 162 is attached to lane guides 108 and 110. Each of the bladder pairs 160 and 162 are attached at a valve 164, which is connected to an air supply 166. Air supply 166 provides air through valve 164 to bladder pair 160 and 162.
As the conveyor 56 fills a lane with a product 170, valve 164 opens and supplies air to the bladder pair associated with the grid lane. Lane 84 illustrates bladder pair 160 inflated with air and shows bladder pair 160 surrounding the product 170. When bladder pair 160 is inflated with air, bladder pair 160 stops the forward motion of the product 170 and holds the product 170 in place. Lane 86 illustrates bladder pair 162 deflated and the product 170 moving in a forward motion.
Operation of the packing machine 20 can be described with reference with
The number of products 170 allowed in a given lane depends on the size of the case being packaged. In the exemplary embodiment, the case is capable of holding sixteen containers of the product 170 (4×4 grid) (see
Referring now to
This continuous process also provides additional benefits. Unlike the hopper type arrangement of the prior art, the serial loading of product 170 described herein assures that the product 170 will be packaged into the case 190 on a first-in, first-out basis. Additionally, since the product 170 is continuously fed sequentially in to the grid lanes, as shown in
As with the exemplary embodiment, when the end section 58 shifts to fill the spare lane 88, all the lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88 shift to position the product 170 in lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88 over the case (not shown). Once positioned, the air in the bladder pairs 160, 162 (and other bladder pairs not shown for the lanes 80 and 82) is removed through valve 164 allowing the bladder pairs to deflate, freeing the product 90 to descend into the case (not shown) below. The process then reverses itself and proceeds in the continuous manner described herein above. The use of the bladder pair to secure the products is advantageous when the product 170 is easily damaged and contact with the lane guides or the shock absorbing device is undesirable. The bladder pairs will also help align oval or non-circular products.
As described herein above, in the exemplary embodiment, the lane guides 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, and 112 are also adjustable to accommodate different size products 170. Alternately, the lane guides may be fixed relative to each other and mounted for easy removal and replacement to accommodate the different sizes of products 170.
It should be appreciated that this method of packaging products can be applied to any configuration grid. The exemplary embodiment illustrates a four-lane grid with four products per lane (4×4 grid). This method can be scaled up or down to meet the packaging size requirements of the product. The frame 136 (
In an alternative exemplary embodiment, it should also be appreciated, that some products 170 can withstand some line pressure and that the spare lane can be eliminated from the machine. In that embodiment, the product 170 fills the number of lanes that correspond to the number of lanes needed to fill the case located below the grid section 26. The second conveyor 56 is then stopped while the lane guides 102, 104, 106, 108, 110, and 112 all shift simultaneously causing the lane guides 104, 106, 108, 110, and 112 to move the products 170 off their respective riding strips 122, 124, 126, and 128. This allows the products 170 in lanes 80, 82, 84, 86, and 88 to fall between the support strips 120, 122, 124, 126, and 128 and into the case 190 on the lift table 34 (see
The packaging machine 20 allows the line pressure to be controlled so that there may be some line pressure, if there is no spacing mechanism and no spare lane. In addition, the packaging machine 20 may be utilized with no line pressure, if the spacing mechanism is employed and/or the spare lane is employed. The packaging machine 20 allows the product 170 to be filled continuously using a constant conveyor speed and without the need for the brake used by prior art packaging machines. In addition, the packaging machine 20 may maintain the predetermined gap 172 between the products 170 within each lane, which will eliminate the wind-up within the lanes. Because line pressure and wind-up can be controlled so that line pressure and wind-up are minimized or eliminated, the drawbacks and deficiencies caused by line pressure and wind-up have also been eliminated. For example, the packaging machine 20 allows the packaging of irregularly shaped product container while eliminating the interlocking, tipping or mispackaging or the product caused by line pressure and wind-up. Additional benefits are also gained by continuously maintaining the feed sequence of product, including the packaging of variety packs and first-in, first-out basis packaging.
While preferred embodiments have been shown and described, various modifications and substitutions may be made thereto without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention. Accordingly, it is to be understood that the present invention has been described by way of illustration only, and such illustrations and embodiments as have been disclosed herein are not to be construed as limiting to the claims.